Thoughts About Winning

Posted in Thoughts about art with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 23, 2013 by brentharrisfineart
A grass green frame with square Iris insets at the corners surrounds a garden of Irises which sit before Penobscot Bay. Can you find the ladybug?

Irises with Ladybug

Everyone I know likes to win, games, contests, lotteries or almost anything. Winning makes us believe the universe or the (G)god or gods we believe in have noticed us. More, not only have they noticed us, they approve. I’ve never quite grasped the concept that some supreme being, responsible for the entire universe, spared much thought for me, but there you have it.

For me, winning money or prizes is great for the surprise factor alone. Day to day existence may seem, at times, repetitive and unchanging. Surprise helps us stay focused. However, winning because of something I’ve thought, done or created makes me feel proud and happy. As an artist and writer, it makes me feel validated. And this may be something as simple as someone following your blog.

But what does this mean in a world of media proliferation and instant access? Initially, it is all of the above, joy, surprise, validation, a good feeling. As an artist or other creative individual, it provides credibility. Early days for me, since I started painting and other art later in life, it provided credibility. When and if I have my art accepted into juried shows, in a physical or online gallery, it says to me that I do have some business pursuing art.

Long ago, artists needed a rich patron, a king, doge, or pope perhaps. As long as he, or very occasionally she, kept this benefactor happy, they had a place to live, a studio, models, food, wine and access to other important people and the consequent dalliances and intrigues. If they fell out of favor, they needed to load their equipment, supplies and other worldly goods and make haste elsewhere, sometimes in the dead of night.

Over time, as more people, prospered and made money and gained status, such as the Dutch at the time their traders owned the seaways. The middle class aspired to what had previously been only the privilege of the rich, art. The influx of money and the early Renaissance conspired to create a multitude of fine artists. Anyone who aspired to be respected and envied and emulated could not fail to have art in their home.

Wars, art theft, art destruction and hoarding forced collectors to rethink their view of art. Rich and powerful people became more civic minded. They became philanthropists. Whether this was a result or attempt to ignore how they had acquired their fortunes, to gain legitimacy, is not germane here. Some of these endowed museums and other public venues too provide art and culture to a wider audience.

This is all well and good, but where does that leave the vast majority of the artists alive today. There are living artists who have gained recognition and sales to the point that their product supports their pursuit. Often being dead will drive up the price of an artist’s work, but it hardly benefits the artist. Even many artists we now consider masters starved or depended on friends and family to keep body and soul together.

So, what does this all have to do with winning? For me, a two-pronged jolt brought me to consider this question. Combined with my mood, it seemed like a good topic to explore. I felt invisible, which I wrote about previously in Invisible Avatar (link), would be the short answer. However, I had on the ArtQuench summer contest and my blog, The Pen’s Might had been nominated for the ShineOn award by a blogger I follow, Taylor Eaton of Little Write Lies. (I’m still unclear in this case whether being nominated is the same as winning, but close enough). It would be one thing if I sought I would be the next great whoever or whatever. I simply wanted to be noticed. And I obviously have been noticed, some, so what’s my problem?

My logic runs like this. If you don’t keep getting noticed, you don’t get mentioned. If you don’t get mentioned, you can’t create a buzz. If you can’t create a buzz, your chance of selling artwork online is extremely limited. Therefore, you feel invisible and feel you will continue to feel invisible. Apparent, at least to me, is that what notice I’ve received has not created any comment, because I haven’t sold any art online. While selling is not mandatory, it’s a great deal better than a sharp poke in the eye. So I continue putting your creative nose to the proverbial grindstone.

Still, on our good days, we believe our art, writing, music or whatever creative endeavor, is good, important, original and worthy. On our bad days, we’re positive we’re hacks, poseurs, mountebanks and frauds whose creative output while be piled on the smelly garbage heap of history. We will continue to create. We have no choice, no matter how painful having our creative nose to the grindstone feels. Hopefully others will see the blood, sweat, tears and pain we invest in your art, our life, and it will transform them into fans, into customers.

If you truly have no talent (less likely) or continue to be unrecognized and unsuccessful, eventually, you will grind your creative proboscis away on the world’s obdurate grindstone. Once this happens, you can go blithely on your way, since you will no longer be able to smell the stink. And believe me, for those driven to create, this is a victory no matter how small. Still in all, to paraphrase something I heard about having money: I’ve won and I’ve lost. Winning’s better.

Previously posted on The Pen’s Might.

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The Invisible Avatar

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2013 by brentharrisfineart
Invisible Avatar

Invisible Avatar

Hello? Can you hear me? Can you see me?

I hope you can because I fear I’ve become invisible. It’s not everywhere or all the time. It’s not at home or when I’m out in the world. In fact, it’s really only when I’m online. Strangely, I’ve been noticed more recently by strangers. I’ve been lauded and have followers. Why then do I feel like I’m missing in action?

Have you ever felt this way, invisible, I mean. I’m guessing we all have at some point. I believe this is not limited to creative types, but I believe it may happen to them more often and more intensely. Perhaps this happens when life feels challenging and full of obstacles, even when we are loved and cared for by others. Maybe this happens exactly when this is true. Or, it may happen for ten dozen other reasons.

In a society saturated with social media, instant communications and myriad ways to connect with people near and far, it seems we should never feel out of sight if we choose not to be. Many people, certainly many who did not grow up in the internet age, hope they are never noticed by the greater world. Their immediate community of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and acquaintances is enough and more than enough. And so it is.

Once you decide you want to be noticed, your tale changes. You’ve reached plot point one as screenwriters would say. Yet, there’s a difference between thinking you want to be noticed and that becoming a reality. For many years I only dreamed. This is a safe pastime, if frustrating and unfulfilling. I was smart and wanted to be creative when I was young, but it never seemed to play out the way I thought it should. A classmate would write a better story or have a nicer voice, or you might suffer the ignominy I did in junior high school. I took an art class where I was strongly urged not to pursue art as a career.

I continued to dream of being a writer, dashing off the occasional trite short story or weak verse. Eventually I actually got serious and began pursuing my writing in earnest. As to the form, I chose it rather than it choosing me. I think that was an unrealized problem from the beginning. I made a diligent attempt to become a screenwriter. I got a film degree, wrote a dozen or more scripts, got them out into the world and got them sent back. I eventually decided this was not going to happen and turned my back on this choice.

Along the way my creativity spilled out into quilting, crafting, Fimo clay figures and probably others I no longer remember. I learned how to create a website and have crafted several. The first were simple, naïve and hope-filled. As I’ve grown, so has my presentation. At least I think it has. I think my ideas were always good, but I had little success in attracting an audience. Therefore, I have only my own opinion by which to judge.

I’m sure I didn’t do enough, or the right things to get noticed. In the first few years of the internet I had no reason or desire to be noticed. Now as an artist and writer if I’m not noticed I’m just a voice crying in the wilderness. Plus, that makes it virtually impossible to sell any artwork. I’m finally old enough and wise enough to know I’m not likely to become famous or make my fortune through my artwork or the written word. Still, a sale now and then would certainly help my bottom line.

As I’ve grown older I’ve become more confident. Finding oil painting helped me in this regard. In my earlier creative endeavors, screenwriting, etc., I always qualified my creative output. I was studying, trying, working at, wanted to be whatever my current passion. I used this as a way to buffer failure and the judgment it implied. If you are in a tentative state you can avoid harsh criticism, at least in your own mind. Unlike my earlier creative “attempts” I own my art and finally my writing. I’m not thinking about or hoping to or any other of the words we use to buffer our insecure and fragile egos.

I am an artist. I am a writer. This means rejection of my work is not a rejection of me. No more creativity languishing in the back of drawers after a single foray into the world. After all, those former offerings were works-in-progress, still growing, still evolving, and more potential than product. Let’s face, no matter how creative or eloquent, or striking, in the modern world, it’s a product.

I’m sure many succumb to the weight of rejection, drowning in their own heart’s blood poured onto the page or canvas. No matter their medium, in the end they have no more to give. It’s not as if the back of my drawer in my case didn’t grow fuller for a long time, but this allowed me to continue to struggle, bloody but unbowed. I’m one of the lucky ones. I tricked myself into truly finishing one of my works in progress. It did not make me an instant success, overnight or otherwise; it allowed me to complete works, good, bad or indifferent.

Now that I have found my métier I don’t worry so much about rejection. This is not the same as feeling invisible. This is offering work to be judged by a gallery, a contest or some other venue. If my work doesn’t get chosen, well that’s just one person’s opinion. I’m sure it helps that I have been accepted into judged shows, in galleries and on-line, as well as two solo café shows. Not big news, but not nothing. I continue to create and offer my vision to the world, hoping I will find success and believing I will.

I do what I can to get noticed and to share myself, my unique perspective with any and all comers. I self-promote, shamelessly. I’ve revised my websites and created new ones as I’ve produced more and different kinds of art. For various reasons I’ve begun creating digital art and showing some of my photography. And I can finally share my voice, my writing, since I have found an appropriate form.

So, you say, what’s all this talk about feeling invisible? And maybe I’m finding out it’s not about anything. I’ve been a finalist, had honorable mentions, took a third place, an award of special recognition, and most recently won Art Quench Gallery “Summer” competition, which means I’ll have online representation for the coming year. All good, right?

Yes. That’s all good news. I think my feeling of invisibility comes from posts which appear on social media. After spending time, energy and passion creating art or writing an essay or poem, I put it on a site that posts to social media. Or I post it directly. Then it drops into a bottomless pit. At least that’s how it feels. If I’m lucky one person comments or likes what I’ve offered. Though often this is from a close friend, and my old insecurity makes me wonder if they are just being kind. Or it feels like some meta-social convention as in the ubiquitous “like” button. This seems like saying fine when someone asks how you are. It’s not meaningless, but it’s not much.

Since I’ve started following some of the bloggers who have followed me, I can barely keep up. Hell, let’s face it, I can’t keep up. So why should I expect others to keep up? I do. Fair? Not a chance, but it still feels awful to get no response. I think it would be like entering your child into a contest and not only does your child not win, it’s as if they do not even exist.

So, while I was feeling invisible, a blogger I follow, Taylor Eaton of LittleWriteLies (excellent work), presented me with the ShineOn award. Although this may not seem important, just a way for like-minded bloggers to connect, it made my day. In a world where social networks become our community, a group of mostly compatible people, no matter how thin the original connection, it feels as if your friends are ignoring you. Worse, it feels as if they are not even noticing you. So, where does that leave me? Right back where I started.

In my earlier creative life, I wanted people to not only notice my work and acknowledge me, I wanted them to pay me for it. Truly, I wanted them to pay me for it much more than I wanted to be recognized for my insight or excellence. That left me constantly unprepared for rejection. I never consciously admitted this, even to myself. Before, my family and friends were the only people to provide feedback and acceptance. Apathy and rejection came from people I didn’t know. Crazy as it sounds to me now, since the people I didn’t know had the money their opinion mattered more to me than that of my nearest and dearest. Now, as overwhelmed as everyone else you know, recognition comes from people you don’t really know and apathy from your online friends.

There’s no malice in this. I’m not even sure anymore that there is a “this”, just people trying to keep up with their lives. Fortunately, even though it took writing this essay to figure it out, I know whose opinions matter more. Just send me a buck once in a while; nobody should have to do this for free.

Previously Published on The Pen’s Might.

Light, A Distant Vista

Posted in Thoughts about art with tags , , , , , , on August 14, 2013 by brentharrisfineart

Image

Responsible, preoccupied, needs, daily duties, urges to create
Atlas beneath my half sky inventing my truth in beauty before I’m late
Days fast-paced, so full of shoulds and musts to meet and answer
When so few seek either truth or beauty; they don’t pay the financier

Is shielding the candle flame from darkness worth the strain?
Will it fill the hole within my soul and make me whole again?
Who asks the question, who seeks the answer, why does it matter?
To be tiny unheard voices, canaries in a coal mine sing and chatter

Will others ever even notice, do I toot my horn enough, too much?
Should I turn away, the impracticallity of art a waste, a crutch?
Pain of creation, alone, brings hope and joy in equal measure
Am I allowed to court my own fulfillment, pleasure, treasure?

Surely the needful life, time and energy and love, given just for others
Should hold satisfaction more than enough, or do we fear it smothers?
Halfway home is halfway gone as we pace the long road, forth, back
Can those who feel no need to quest, search and express feel our lack?

Can anywith these needs, a gnawing hunger, do other than struggle, strive?
To express their truth, their beauty, their highest selves, to feel alive
So they must, they will, despite missing ears and rock-filled smocks
Joining, if by life allowed, or wandering lost, life filled with bolts and locks

Living part-time normal, whose standard, driven by forces, no choices
Sharing inner acres, demons, angels, visions, driven, hoping the world rejoices
How then resolve which meets the test, what is beauty, what is truth?
All rhetoric and nonsense which holds no meaning in our age or in our youth

When greed rules, the basest, noble thieves and villains at the top
Media-fed, proud ignorance, mob mentality too rabid, too violent to stop
Till blood runs bright, grim death invited to the feast, an honored guest
Blood darkening the robe of this fell specter upon an endless quest

Despite all, head down, humanity crawls on, humbled by staggering blows
Yet art, beauty truth, hope lift our eyes where light a distant vista shows

FICTIONAL REALITY

Posted in Uncategorized on August 1, 2013 by brentharrisfineart
A man with a hood over his head sails blythly down a swift-moving stream, unaware and unconcerned that he's cruising to a fiery doom. He is watched, but is it by gods or monsters, or does that refer to us?

Gods or Monsters
16″ x 20″
Oil on canvas

When we visit a museum or gallery, read a book or watch a movie we tend to believe the art, the creative expression portrays what the artist saw. But are we sure? I’m not referring to style. I am not willing to say that Dali, Bosch, Escher and others didn’t see the worlds the created. In one sense, it is a foregone conclusion that they did. How else could they have created them for us?

Yet creative expression, even so-called nonfiction, documentaries and even photography are almost always fiction. And once we ingest them into our psyches, they become fiction, since we reinvent what we see, hear, read and are otherwise exposed to every time we think about them. Even with the original creator, scenes are carefully or casually selected, framed, cropped, retouched, enhanced and changed to suit the artist’s vision. Sometimes, this creates almost a super-reality, where we can examine our place in the world. We are shown a version of reality, a great play or movie, a masterpiece of art or music or whatever you think of when you read these words.

This becomes a problem when material is used to manipulate people into to seeing the world other than as it is for personal gain, money, power, a moral viewpoint that allows damaging behavior. Artists, writers, politicians, and others use a form of this every time they seek to create their vision. If we are aware of this, remember the fiction, we can watch for the editorial bias inherent in this process. We are able to think more clearly. Editorial bias, rather than simply shaping our world to the most honest and true expression, reflects and supports the dominant ideology of the person or group who created it.

Conservative, liberal, anarchist, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, black, white, red, yellow, tan, straight, gay, capitalist, communist, socialist, fascist, green, hunter, vegan, war monger, peacenik, pro-life, pro-choice, NRA supporter, anti-gun advocate,  patriot, subversive, survivalist, revolutionary and other unnamed will channel what they present and what they have presented to them based on their views and beliefs. The conflict arises because their target audiences perceive their presentations as reality, the only truth. This perception blinds them, blinds us, to any other point of view. Usually, it makes us antagonistic towards the views and beliefs of others, which may erupt into violence.

Artists, writers, musicians and other creatives, as well as the ruling elite wherever you are understand that access is power. The power brokers constantly reinforce their view of the world on those they directly influence. Our current ready availability to communicate instantly widens such groups immensely. Creative endeavors may do this as well, but often they disguise their version of reality to fool the filters, the censors we and others place on our view of the world. Creative visions may only succeed in small ways occasionally. Yet each success is a grain of sand added to a growing volume seeking a tipping point to change reality for you, me and everyone we know. Sometimes, that grain of sand may lodge in your shoe, irritating, painful, a constant reminder of others you must deal with daily. Sometimes, creative people change not only themselves and others, but the whole society. If you believe this is far-fetched think of Galileo, Newton, Da Vinci, Beethoven, the Beatles, Gandhi, or whomever your personal heroes are. Just remember, the villains also have this power.

Open your eyes, your ears, and your mind and look at the world anew today.